Hotels and Pollyanna Hospitality

“Thank you for calling the Holiday Inn University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center.  This is Cindy speaking.  How may I help you?”

This is a line I would recite a thousand times over the course of my final year in college as I worked the front desk in Bowling Green Kentucky’s former Embassy Suites-turned Holiday Inn, attached to the only convention center in town.

Sometimes I worked in the gift shop selling snacks, sodas and forgotten toiletries.  Other times I checked in guests at registration or set wake-up calls and took room service orders.  There were a few out-of-the-ordinary days where the restaurant chef would request assistance plating meals for a big reception.  I even vacuumed the presidential suite once to help housekeeping turn over the room for one, Ms. Dionne Warwick who was checking in that evening.  Yes, Dionne Warwick stayed at a Holiday Inn in Bowling Green, Kentucky once…

I didn’t work at the hotel long but it did leave a long lasting impression on my work ethic.  Of course my previous job, which had been on a farm, taught me the value of a hard days work, but the hotel taught me the value of customer service.  Something that we sadly don’t see all too often in today’s society.

Hotel management had implemented an incentive program called Fish Bucks.  Based on the Fish! Philosophy , it was a very simple point system which awarded high performing staff of the hotel with fictitious orange paper money that could be spent once a month at the employee appreciation dinners.  The items available for purchase ranged from coffee mugs to restaurant gift certificates, to DVD players and other electronic devices.  Every month I racked up a stack of Fish Bucks and every month I couldn’t bring myself to purchase anything that I felt equated to the effort put forth to earn them.

During the time I was stockpiling Fish Bucks, a rather ornery gentleman by the name of Corey Mendelson often stayed at our hotel (I’ve changed his name for this story but I secretly hope he reads this and remembers me fondly and doesn’t take offense to me calling him a rather ornery gentleman).  He owned or managed some sort of construction or concrete company that was developing real estate in the area and would check in for weeks at a time.  He was a little cranky and obstinate and never happy with his corner room on the 8th Floor.  Many of the front desk staff dreaded his arrival.

He would begrudgingly check in, proceed to the gift shop where I witnessed him purchase Oreo’s and a Diet Coke every single time, go up to his room and immediately call down with a complaint.  The remote wasn’t working, the bathroom lights were too dim, the A/C was making a weird noise, the room next door was too loud.  Keep in mind, this is a Holiday Inn in southwestern Kentucky, not the Ritz Carlton of Naples, Florida.  He was just impossible to please.

Until I decided to Pollyanna him.

  1. an excessively cheerful or optimistic person.

In the children’s books or movies about Pollyanna, she would always look at the bright side of life and throughout the stories would encounter someone with a more pessimistic outlook.  She would perpetually kill them with kindness and optimism until they realized their negatively realistic views were anchoring them down instead of letting them sail.

Yep, I was going to Pollyanna him and he was going to be happy whether he liked it or not!

I started looking ahead for the days that he would be checking in so I could be on the schedule to welcome him.  I got permission to prepare a gift bag of Oreo’s and Diet Coke in lieu of the usual granola bar and bottled water which Priority Club members received.  I went up to his room before check-in and made sure everything was in order.  I greeted him as if he were family – so happy to see him, welcoming him back to his home away from home.  I’d throw in a few drink coupons with his key card.  And anytime he called down with a complaint I told him how sorry we were and that he was right (no matter what it was) and that we would do everything we could to fix the situation – as he was our most valued guest (after Dionne Warwick of course).

It took me about 3 months to Pollyanna Mr. Mendelson .  During that time he slowly changed his attitude at check-in, called down with fewer complaints, and he even started recommending the hotel to others.  I felt as though I had reached my greatest achievement when he finally submitted a glowing comment card about me that resulted in a stack of fresh Fish Bucks from management.

At the end of my brief stint with the hotel, I was approaching graduation and had already secured a job with a commercial real estate company out of state.  Somehow Mr. Mendelson caught wind of my departure, which was around Christmas time, and showed up on my last week with a poinsettia plant and card to thank me for being such a positive influence on his stays at the hotel.

I left the hotel business that December with a stack of Fish Bucks still in my name.  I found more value in keeping them rather than spending them on some material thing I didn’t need.  I saw them as more valuable than the most expensive item up for sale at our appreciation dinners.  So I took them with me and kept them in a memory box as reminders of the pride I felt having earned them.

Fast forward 14 years later and it looks like I’m getting back into the hotels business.  On Monday I start a new position as the Director of Marketing for JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality Group.  I won’t have to take reservations, or sell Oreo’s, or even vacuum the presidential suite for Ms. Dionne Warwick, but I will continue to draw upon the Fish! Philosophy as I have for years working in our Retail group at JLL.  Customer Service is not dead.  We are all capable of Pollyanna moments and earning Fish Bucks that we never want to spend.


That’s me with the rest of our 2005 Guest Services Team at the Holiday Inn University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Bowling Green, KY.

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